High Availability Features to Watch Out for in Microsoft SQL Server 2012

Mar 7, 2012 / By Edwin Sarmiento

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High Availability Features to Watch Out For in SQL Server 2012

While there have been several discussions about the next version of SQL Server within the technical communities, most customers are still thinking about whether or not to upgrade. I can’t blame them, upgrading to the latest version of any software or hardware is no small feat and the cost of doing so is always a consideration to the overall IT expenditures of an organization. However, business requirements change overtime and with those changes come the challenges of addressing them. This is one of my arguments when discussing upgrade and migration projects with customers. High availability and disaster recovery is just one of those business requirements. With data becoming more and more critical to the business operations, it’s no surprise that for every IT project, high availability and disaster recovery is always on the plate. And this is where I have my eyes (and hands) on the next release of SQL Server. I’ve been playing around with SQL Server 2012, codenamed “Denali,” since the CTP days and am very happy with some of the features that they have introduced to address high availability and disaster recovery requirements. For me, these are more than enough reasons to consider upgrading to SQL Server 2012.

Support for Windows Server Core

Windows Server Core is a stripped-down, minimal configuration installation option of Windows Server 2008. When it first came out, I called it the Linux version of Windows just because you don’t have the fancy GUI and Windows Explorer shell that all Windows administrators have gotten used to. As a part-time Windows Engineer, I’ve been recommending deployments of Windows Server Core to customers who want to upgrade their domain controllers, file servers, DNS and DHCP servers from Windows Server 2003 to Windows Server 2008. However, there has been some resistance from in-house Windows administrators who have gotten used to the graphical user interface that any Microsoft product is very much well-known for. This is because managing the server means going back to the good-old-days of MS DOS, ramping up on Windows PowerShell or managing it remotely using the Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT). You do have minimal GUI available such as Task Manager, Notepad and Registry Editor. As far as I’m concerned, having a stripped-down version of the Windows operating system provides several benefits:

More secure. Limited features mean reduced surface area for any potential attacks. And this reduces potential downtime that a server may experience, especially those that are constantly connected to the Internet.
Better performance (relatively). Limited features also mean reduced services running which frees up resources that can be used by the main application running on the server. I can’t count how many times I have seen Windows Audio or Windows Presentation Foundation Font Cache services running on a Windows server.
Reduced management. Limited features also mean fewer patches to install. You can skip those grueling patch Tuesdays just because the latest available security update only applies to the full-blown Windows Server 2008 installation, not Windows Server Core. This results in higher availability for your server.

When Windows Server Core was released, SQL Server wasn’t officially supported to run on top of it. I’ve always advocated for a minimal SQL Server installation ever since I got my hands on version 6.5 because of the reasons I’ve listed above. I guess Microsoft has been reading my wish list after all with SQL Server 2012 being the very first version of SQL Server to be officially supported on Windows Server Core.

In the next part of this blog post, I’ll talk about another high availability and disaster recovery feature that I’ve been a fan of ever since I heard about it – SQL Server AlwaysOn. Stay tuned for that post, or you can join me on the webinar, April 25, 2012 from Noon EST to 1pm EST.

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